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Convicted murderer gets significant sentence deduction for ‘appalling’ personal history

14 Jun 2024

| Author: Sonia Pinto

S 104 Sentencing Act engaged – MPI 17 years manifestly unjust-assault in private dwelling- multiple assaults -pre-existing mental illness-offender’s personal circumstances-trauma from early life-s 27 cultural report-life imprisonment for murder-drug use, alcohol and early life-excessive self-defence-psychotic experiences-paranoia and auditory hallucinations-mitigating factors in assessing culpability- brutality of assault- Marong v R and Phillips v R on victim vulnerability

R v Smith [2024] NZHC 1289-as per Eaton J


This case involved a murder and two separate violent assaults on three different victims.

Motu Smith’s spree of offending started with an assault on a supervisor, victim J, where the accused was working as a labourer. Smith put victim J in a chokehold from behind without warning, lifting him out of his chair. His breathing was restricted and his vision became blurry. Smith then began punching his supervisor and blows were exchanged before they separated.

During the attack, the chair victim J was sitting on broke and splintered. Smith used a jagged piece of the chair as a weapon and demanded the victim’s cell phones and car keys. He left in the stolen work vehicle.

In the early hours of the next morning, the stolen vehicle was located outside an address in Tai Tapu. The occupier noticed the car lights and approached. Smith thought the vehicle had broken down and asked the occupier for a tow rope. The police were called and Smith was processed at the Christchurch Central Police Station. The police were unaware at this stage of the serious assault on victim J the previous day. Smith was released on bail shortly after 7am and went to his mother’s house where his brother was home. His brother described Smith as ‘on edge’ but said it was not unusual for him to appear this way.

Smith was next seen driving a car belonging to Daniel Hawkins. Before stealing this vehicle, Smith had entered Hawkins’ home and bedroom and beaten him badly before cutting his throat with a knife. Hawkins later died.

A forensic pathologist determined that the victim had suffered a fatal brain injury before Smith cut his throat.  Counsel for Smith raised the issue of self-defence with excessive force but the sentencing judge did not accept that.

After the murder, Smith fled the scene in Hawkins’ vehicle and later set it on fire.

Smith then walked to the nearby library carpark and came across a man who became victim M. Smith put the man in a chokehold, then punched him in the head and fled in his car.

Smith eventually dumped this vehicle and stole a Subaru in Akaroa before driving to Christchurch where he was arrested.


Traumatic childhood

The court had several mental health reports available at sentencing. These had been ordered for an assessment of Smith’s fitness to plead and proved to be helpful in detailing his psychiatric history. Prior to the offending, Smith had reportedly been hearing voices. The paranoia and psychiatric disorders were aggravated by high methamphetamine and alcohol use.

Smith was said to have had a traumatic childhood with sexual and physical abuse, neglect, gang exposure and extreme violence and exposure to drugs and alcohol at a very young age. The court found this exposure undoubtably played a role in the path Smith had taken in life.

In sentencing, the judge had to impose life imprisonment for the murder unless it would be manifestly unjust. This was not the case here.

The court then had to decide if s 104 was triggered. If so, the minimum term of Imprisonment (MPI) of 17 years would apply. The court found that s 104 did apply on ground s 104(1)(c) and s 104(1)(g).

The next issue for the court was whether a 17-year MPI would be manifestly unjust. Eaton J said with Smith’s “appalling” personal history and evidence of mental health issues that the 17-year MPI would be manifestly unjust. This was reduced to 14 years and six months.


R v Smith 2024-NZHC-1289- R v Smith

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